Through the third quarter of 2012, U.S. beef imports were 10 percent above 2011 levels. Despite moderate growth and in light of a tightening domestic supply, the increase in beef imports in 2012 has not been as robust as expected earlier in the year. U.S. beef imports in 2012 have been largely constrained by lower import levels from Canada—13 percent lower year-over-year through the third quarter. Canada has also been the largest beef exporting country to the United States since 2008. Imports from Central America and Argentina were also lower though the third quarter, while import levels from Oceania have largely held their momentum. Imports from Australia and New Zealand were 46 and 6 percent higher than a year ago. Fourth-quarter beef imports are expected to be nearly 5 percent higher than a year-ago, while total imports for 2012 are forecast at 2.24 billion pounds, or 9 percent higher year-over-year.

U.S. beef exports through the third quarter were 13 percent below a year ago. Excluding Japan, decreases in exports have come from traditionally top U.S. export countries, while exports to destinations in Asia have been primarily higher. Through the third quarter, exports were lower to Canada (-15 percent), Mexico, (-24 percent) and South Korea (-24 percent), and higher to Vietnam (+16 percent) and Hong Kong (+13 percent). Fourth-quarter U.S. exports are forecast at 7 percent below a year ago, while exports for the year are expected to total 2.472 billion pounds, or 11 percent below 2011 levels.